Blowback over day-after-Labor Day primary

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BOSTON — Scheduling the statewide primary elections for the day after Labor Day is "a brazen example" of Secretary of State William Galvin "trying to depress voter turnout," the secretary's Democratic challenger said Tuesday.

Josh Zakim, the Boston city councilor challenging Galvin for the Democratic nomination as secretary of state, lashed out at Galvin after the secretary announced Tuesday that he's scheduled the primaries for Sept. 4 after navigating a calendar full of religious holidays and other constraints.

The date of the state primary is usually settled without much discussion or public attention, and would have been held on Sept. 18 if not for a conflict with a Jewish holiday. Because of the conflict, this year Galvin was required by law to schedule the primary within seven days of the second Tuesday of September, or Sept. 11, leaving the secretary a window from Sept. 4 until Sept. 18 to hold the election.

Galvin's decision — to hold the primaries on the day after Labor Day — and his request that the Legislature approve an expansion of the state's early voting provisions to allow five days of early voting before the primaries did not sit well with Zakim. The city councilor claimed the primary has never been held the day after Labor Day in the 124 years it's been a federal holiday. "It is outrageous and unprecedented to schedule a statewide primary for the day after Labor Day, when people are just returning from their summer vacations and haven't had time to focus on the upcoming election. And scheduling an early voting period during the last week of August is equally ridiculous," Zakim said in a statement. "This is a brazen example of the Secretary trying to depress voter turnout."

In a short interview on City Hall Plaza on Tuesday, Zakim said that while he suggested holding the primaries the weekend of Sept. 15-16, he also agreed with the League of Women Voters, which proposed the primaries be held later in the month than the 4th.

Galvin's office said his determination came after consultation with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler, and that it comes with a request that the Legislature pay for cities and towns to hold five days of voting before the Sept. 4 primaries. The secretary of state has in the past been resistant to scheduling elections the day after the holiday due to the overtime costs associated with hiring poll workers to set up stations over the weekend.

"Given the interest we are already seeing in the primaries and the successful implementation of early voting in the 2016 State Election, I believe offering early voting for the State Primaries would provide a greater opportunity for voter participation," Galvin said in a statement Tuesday morning.

Chandler said in a statement Tuesday that Galvin's choice of Sept. 4 "is the best consensus option" and that Galvin's proposed five days of early voting "will help provide ample opportunities for voters to make their voices heard."

The secretary's request for an expansion of early voting — state law already allows for early voting ahead of November state elections -- comes one day after Auditor Suzanne Bump pegged the total unfunded early voting cost to municipalities for the 2016 general election at $1,063,978.14 and asked that the Legislature make municipalities whole in a supplemental budget.

Sen. Anne Gobi and Rep. John Mahoney, the co-chairs of the Election Laws Committee, could not be reached for comment Tuesday on the early voting proposal.

Galvin is proposing to have an early voting period "begin on Monday, August 27, 2018 and end on Friday, August 31, 2018," according to a copy of proposed legislation provided by his office. The legislation calls for early voting to be "conducted during the usual business hours of each city or town clerk" and would require each city or town to identify a location for early voting by Aug. 10.

Zakim said would support an expansion of early voting before the primary as long as the holiday weekend doesn't count toward the five-day window.

"I'm supportive of early voting. I'd be interested to see what five days he's planning on, because if that also includes Labor Day weekend I don't know what positive impact that's going to have on turnout," Zakim said before seeing Galvin's specific proposal.

Setting a date for the state primary this year became more of an issue than normal — and became an issue in the secretary of state primary contest — because the target date for the primary is Tuesday, Sept. 18, but that date marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. One week earlier, Tuesday, Sept. 11, conflicts with the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

A spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Setti Warren said the former Newton mayor's campaign was still digesting the news Tuesday afternoon. Democrat Jay Gonzalez's gubernatorial campaign manager Kevin Ready said it will be incumbent on campaigns to "make sure voters are thinking about the election even while they're enjoying the holiday weekend."

Before making his decision, Galvin held a two-week public comment period, including a public hearing at which one person showed up to testify, and received comments from about 50 people or organizations by email, his office said.

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